A Wonderful Life as a Failure and Dropout

Remembering Here&Now

Vandana recalls 32 years since Pune 1…

In a recently published biography, Leonard Cohen comments about his music and career:

There was never any sense that this (music) would have any future, that there was anything but the moment. No sense of a career involved at all. The word ‘career’ always had an unattractive and burdensome resonance in my heart. My idea mostly was to avoid participating in that activity called career, and I’ve been pretty much able to avoid it.”

Prior to becoming a sannyasin I don’t remember doing anything consistently well, despite being branded a ‘genius’ at age 7 and moved up in school with girls a year older; this only served to strengthen my alien–and–misfit identity. Infrequently invited to join in schoolyard activities and games, I spent much of childhood holed up in my room with a book.

Vandana, Susanna-Brett, Barrier Reef
Vandana, Susanna-Brett, Barrier Reef
Vandana modelling
Vandana Dec 1966
Vandana modelling
Vandana Uni student 1964

At around age 8, I announced my intention to become a concert pianist, this seeming a good answer to those ‘career’ questions. Sadly however, I took up jazz at age 13 and failed that year’s classical piano exams due to syncopation of a Mozart sonata somehow failing to impress the Royal School of Music examiner (petty man).

Flashes of ‘brilliance’ were rarely followed by completion of projects, goals or activities; nothing ever fully held my attention or seemed worth completing.

At age 19, bored and disillusioned, having dropped out of university to join a travelling theatre company which soon ran out of funds, I married a 22 year–old TV director thinking this might stabilise, motivate or at least keep me out of trouble. Sadly it did neither. So, career and marriage down the gurgler, I next headed for therapy, convinced self–unravelling could hold the key to a meaningful and happy life. Strangely this didn’t work either and at 26, despite myself, I wound up in India in orange clothes with an Indian name and guru’s picture round my neck convinced I’d reached the dismal end of the line.

Then followed seven intense years of continuous work in the Pune 1 ashram. Immersed in whatever tasks were allotted me, I revelled in the prevailing attitude that a 7–day work schedule kept us blissfully free from ‘days off’ i.e. days flailing about in the mind.

A regular experience in those days was for one’s attachment to and identification with particular roles, jobs and activities to be broken and this could be shattering or exhilarating depending on one’s state of mind at the time.

When I first entered the ranks of Pune 1 ashram employment it was gratifying to be asked to assist Divya and Arup with the fledgling therapy groups, Primal Therapy and Intensive Enlightenment. I had recently participated in both these processes in the USA and Europe and harboured a hankering to become a therapist. Yet I soon heard via Laxmi that these roles were unsuitable for me and HE said I was instead to do ‘professor work’ i.e. work in publications. This was of course an enormous gift and I developed high strength attachment to transcribing, editing and writing introductions to Osho’s books. A message once even came that Vandana writes the best introductions to his books, exactly as he wants them (though some professional writer sannyasins found my bhakti writing style a little nauseating).

Five years later I was suddenly dismissed from publications and sent to the newly– formed Theatre Group—initially a distressing sentence (noisy actors OMG) that soon turned into work of marvellous intensity. Yet while the Theatre Group was at its thriving pinnacle it was abruptly disbanded, a production of Hamlet cancelled, and its members, described by Sheela as ‘performing arseholes’, sent to versions of salt mines – mine to sell clothes in the ashram boutique.

Drawing on my childhood keyboard skills I had taught myself to play dulcimers and loved playing in morning satsang and evening music group with ashram musicians, some of whom started coming to my room in Krishna House for nightly jam sessions. I wrote to Osho asking if I should do more with music and his reply was to ‘keep it private’.

An Australian film director friend once visited the ashram and asked me to come back to Sydney and play a lead role in a film, all expenses paid. I wrote to Osho who replied that there was ‘no need’ to accept this invitation.

Reflecting on these memories reminds me I was never destined for a ‘career path’ and in my mid 20’s very fortunate to meet a master who hammered home that awareness.

A few months before taking sannyas in London an astrologer told me that in this life I was completing last remnants of art, compassion and illusion. While this sounds a little grandiose I understood it to mean that while ‘gifted’ I was never bound for stardom.

One of the most difficult aspects of returning to the West in 1981 was deciding what to do and who to be, having lost all the ambition, motivation and drive which I had never had in the first place! But my small trust fund ran out and survival necessitated employment.

So next came thirty–plus years’ worth of jobs — done mostly with intensity, commitment, enthusiasm, even passion — including theatre, TV and film acting, writing and editing, TV presenter, network marketing (talk to me first if you ever think of going there!), fashion model and compere, waitress and function manager, retail store manager, personal shopper, image consultant, spruiker extraordinaire, music writer and advertising manager for new–age magazines and currently dermal therapist in a cosmetic medicine practice.

Probably the most ‘downmarket’ activity of all these – spruiking — was truly a triumph. To wax eloquent on a microphone for hours at a time in busy city stores, sometimes out on the street, and pull in the crowds, convincing poor shoppers to buy absolute rubbish which in their right minds they would never normally glance at: now this was creativity! And to spruik really well (and I was a remarkable spruiker) required talking faster than the mind could think, telling stories and weaving webs of seductive sales spin, often laughing and raving on simultaneously which seemed to only further attract the teeming hordes. Store managers loved me. And it did wonders for my fear. You cannot take yourself seriously when you stand on a street corner loudly telling phenomenal fibs with ferocious high energy for hours at a time: so absurd, it lightened my self–perception till I virtually floated off the job when I packed up my mike at day’s end.

And to achieve this midlife ‘career high’ I studied medieval English and philosophy at university in my pre–sannyas youth!

Today I iron wrinkles and remove sun spots and milia from people’s skin.

It’s hands–on work, helpful for one with an ever–rattling mind, and I entertain my clients with tales of my life as a hippy dropout which seem to keep them amused.

Oh, what a wonderful life as a failure, dropout and misfit! A life which is somehow still going strong working full time in my 66th year on the planet!

Vandana, Osho News

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